**Warning this blog post will deal with personal issues**
Yup so we are all called to different vocations. Some are called to marriage, still others to consecrated lay celibates, and yes, others to the priesthood. A few months back I wrote a little piece regarding ‘Diocesan vs Religious.’ (The one where I’m pictured with Brother Patrick OSB, as we both studied together at the Grand Seminary of Montreal.) Well, as I write this post, I am well aware of one little factoid,..Yup! You guessed it! I, Optimusmastro will never, (and the Rock means,..evvvver,.become a monk!).
Of course a little primer, and this little adventure actually begins late last week. Each year, the different groups of seminarians together with their respective animation leaders go off for an end of the year Retreat. For our group, we were off to St Benoit du Lac, a Benedictine monastery near the American border(I’m spelling it American style, so that google may find the word easier inside the ‘search’ ;)) in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Ironically this is Brother Patrick’s community. They are cloistered, which means, along with wearing a habit, they take their vows of chastity, obedience and poverty. The novices are completely cut off from the world, and must ask permission to see their family and friends. While I can appreciate the call to constant prayer, (Vigil/Matins 5:00am, Laudes 7:30am, Holy Mass 11am, Vespers 5pm and Complines 7:45pm) and the quiet, it can get well,..too quiet! (Hence why I’ve discerned my call to diocesan priesthood!) Their meals are eaten in silence (there is however a reading from either the Bible or a spiritual book during the time they eat.), and the refectory is only open during the hour. Guests can be invited to eat with the monks, but usually external guests must eat in a separate refectory, all the while still maintaining silence.
So like any other Saturday morning, started my day with morning meditation, then off to train Jiu Jitsu at Gracie Barra. While rolling, a not so well timed jump, had me land square on my toes which were driven into the mat. Prognosis? A spraign,…sigh,.. Saturday evening went to Mass as my foot was swelling and looking more mutant like as the night progressed. Going to bed Saturday night at my parents, I knew that training, just even walking would be a chore. Sunday morning, meditation, then Mass, my director was going to be concelebrating at my home parish, and myself? Well I was about as mobile as a slug,..Nonetheless we left that afternoon for St Benoit du Lac and our Retreat was officially under way! Sunday evening, we entered into silence, in order to allow God to speak to our hearts.
Day 1, Monday. I was up but didn’t make it to vigil that morning, I elected to stay in bed. My foot was now that size of a small tortoise and my mobility matched it. I went to participate in Laudes, then breakfast. All of this silence along with people from all walks of life. The good thing about a retreat is that it can act as not just a spiritual recharge, but also a physical one. A few years back, I would have laughed myself silly at this very notion, and would have opted for Cancun, beach, all inclusive hotel along with a little CocoBongo or Senor Frog’s at night. Well we all can and do evolve, so I find myself spending time with a cloistered community of Benedictine monks and embracing their way of life. Our evening meditation focused upon Pastores Dabo Vobis, the letter by Pope John Paul II regarding the formation of priests. My area of improvement is my sanguine character, which can work both to my strength and to my detriment. I need to learn to be patient and charitable,.. The issue that I’m struggling most with as I type this is not training or working out because of my injury and the diet that we have at the monestery isn’t exactly approved by a nutritionist.
Day 2, Tuesday: Same thing, up early, this time I attend Vigil at 5am and the chanting of the monks is surreal. It creates an incredible prayer climate and your morning meditation just flows. The Blessed Sacrament, the chanting of the Psalms, the environment is beautiful. The image lasting with me is Jesus on the Cross. How our Lord is inviting me to share in His passion. Remember that I’m still hurt, my mobility is limited and now we are going on the third day without training, my ego is taking a beating. The next issue was being invited to the monks refectory to share lunch with them. They aren’t exactly the most talkative bunch! At 4pm we gathered for a tour of the monastery and the grounds, and even got to go behind the cloister! (A rare treat for outsiders!) At night our group gathered and the topic was conversion, where we are right now as opposed to where we were at the beginning of the year.
Day 3, Wednesday: Today’s reflection continued, as again I attended the vigil prayer at dawn, my foot starting to feel a little better. (Still can’t train, can’t go for a jog, and there is no gym here.) Holy Mass was beautiful, the Gregorian chant almost caused me (Marco) to change into Optimusmastro, (Banner/Hulk style) and deliver a WWE style promo as to why we can’t experience Eucharist like this on a regular basis. My prayer being offered was for my own personal sanctification. I am temperamental, and I seek closure on an issue with a family member whom I love very much (and is equally as hot headed), that really weighs on my heart. My conscience clean, yet my heart broken. To compromise? An easy scenario, simplistic and quick, but the imagery I get is the Apostles compromising truth to avoid being killed. So I wait, I pray, offer reparations, and leave the reconciliation on God’s time. Just sometimes I wish I could ‘undo’ events, not to say that I would not react in the same manner, but just that the event didn’t have to transpire. (think Jesus’s prayer in the garden Holy Thursday evening.) The other issue weighing heavily on my heart is chastity and celibacy. My time as a trainer caused me much regression, and drinking the kool aid of secularism, money and girls were my gods. Our Lord is making me fully realize the extent of my sinful lifestyle. It is not easy for a priest to live in solitude, let alone a discerning seminarian. The sacrament of Reconciliation is there, but sometimes the enemy through whispers, will entice a temptation and yes, we will act upon it, thinking we will just ‘confess’ it later. My Spiritual Director once told me that in order to purify gold, it must be purged with fire. My prayer through these issues, at times mimics the prayer from the Rich man and Lazarus parable, (with me being the Rich man begging to quench my tongue). For our afternoon ‘break,’ Brother Patrick took us on a tour of the monastery grounds, the lake and most importantly, where they make the apple cider and the cheese!!!
Priesthood is difficult, it is about taking up one’s Cross to follow Jesus. Carrying the Cross means dying to one’s self, because eventually there is a crucifixion. We must however, trust in the Resurrection, as this is where our Faith truly lies, but that doesn’t mean it’s gonna be easy. As I prepare for bed, I am fully aware of two things. The first, is that my Jiu Jitsu injury is a little wink from the Holy Spirit. God is a jealous God, and wanted my full attention, especially on this retreat. I can admit that if I was mobile, I would basically be doing my normal seminarian day, just in a different location. Oh yeah, there would be prayer and silence, but also my working out. Monday (Chest and legs) and Tuesday (Back) Wednesday (Kettlebells,..) you get my point,.. The second thing? Well its quite obvious why I’m such an Optimus Prime mark! He freely went to his death for the autobot cause! Truly Prime is my generation’s Christ figure, as was Aslan the Lion before him.
Day 4, Thursday; Once again, my day started with vigil prayer in the morning. Today’s reflection was going to center around solitude, as opposed to loneliness. Today’s priest will find himself more often than not by himself in a Rectory, or God forbid, an apartment. Interlinked with these idea is also a continuation of yesterday’s finding of my weaknesses (I only named two, Lord knows there are so many more!) So I went before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and began to sort out this issue. It turns out our Lord revealed something else to me! Essentially conversion or dying to one’s self is a life long journey and trusting Jesus is a lot harder than we think! You see, despite this new lifestyle, there has always been a part of me that has kept the ‘old man’ in me alive. I’m not just talking about girls, pornography, masturbation, money, fame, etc,..All these things are symptoms of my lack of trust in the Lord! Trusting Jesus, means much more than Thomas’s affirmation in St John’s Gospel. He put his hand in the wounds, but Jesus says ‘Blessed is he who has not seen, yet believes!’ WOW! We are a generation of ‘Show me!’ (Except when it comes to ordering crap from infomercials, y’know, knives that can allegedly cut through anything? The ‘ShamWow,.’ Etc,.).Yet trusting in the Risen Christ, where by the way, there is enough secular evidence from an extra Biblical standpoint that we could easily mount an argument that there is more of a case for Christ than for the existence of Napoleon. Our lack of Faith is an enabler. It becomes a ‘just in case’ escape hatch, so that if we discern that we aren’t called to priesthood, then we can easily get married, (by the way, that too is a calling) and get on with our lives. Pascal’s wager in reverse?
The good news is, regarding lack of Faith, we are not alone! St Peter, (who Christ would pick to lead His Church) suffered enough brain farts throughout the Gospel you’d have thought he was a tad dim witted. Obviously not a brain surgeon, St Peter was rebuked by Christ for not having Faith, not understanding, not trusting and then, the coup de gras! He betrays Him! What does this example give us? One word, HOPE!
Day 5, Thursday; The final day of this Retreat in a certain sense, and already the fruits are strating to appear. Our Lord has shown me so many faults, so many of my own weaknesses, fragilities and insecurities that I don’t even know where to begin. Luckily my Spritual Director will tell me, probably drill sergeant style. Once again, the day began early with vigil, but this time after prayer, I decided to skip Lauds and breaksfast, and just sleep. I guess I needed it. My meditation for today was fatherhood, and how in a certain sense, I am discerning a call that traditionally does not experience biological fatherhood, but a spiritual one instead. The other issue that is now popping into my head, is the call toward ‘holy indifference,’ something that I really struggle with. I guess I’m a facebook, twitter, social media junkie, and perhaps along with all the other little parasites, Our Lord is inviting me to get that under control. We live in such a world that is so connected, that we cannot imagine freedom from even our cell phones. During my stay, I connected with Facebook through my blackberry, I needed to know what was going on! Herein lies my weakness, and the enemy knows all too well how to solicit the emotions of the ‘old man.’ Past relationships, girls moving on, friends getting married, friends partying and you get a ringside seat to watch it all through your homefeed. Surely, in times of Grace, we can rest assured that the supposed ‘joy’ is not a real joy, but a contentment, especially during the ‘fun’ old school partying moments. The times, however, whereby we see friends with children, smiling as their vocation to be parents is realized is something that can and does play with your head. Everyone on earth is called to a vocation, and tonight during our workshop, we were invited to look at the three, married, single, priesthood and religious. The natural inclination for any man is to find that perfect wife, to have children, to be the dad coaching the hockey team (my case would be martial arts!) early in the morning, and eating supper as a unit. God however, it would appear, is calling me to something different and that I need to trust. Whatever the calling, my life as a Catholic is to accept the universal call to Holiness first and foremost, to sanctify myself and those around me. From there, God’s plan for my life will reveal itself.
Throughout this blog, you have read my critiques regarding abuses in Liturgy, why I question ‘altar girls’ and why the world just doesn’t function the way I think it should. Well, if that were the case, I guess we wouldn’t need a Saviour. Jesus invites us to let him do the heavy lifting, (think of the Footprints poem) all we have to do is trust. As I write this, it is now Friday, and once again, I prayed vigil, but went back to my room and slept. Here I stand, injured, (my foot still nowhere near 100percent,.) contemplative, and naked before my very self. The crucifixion of the old man must happen this year, as I need to shut the door on my past.
I will say this, that religious life, cloistered, silence is most definetly not for me! These monks will be partying a la Ace Ventura 2 style after we leave, there is no doubt in my mind!
St Benedict,.................................ora pro nobis!